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West De Pere sees rise in students with speech, language difficulties

West De Pere School District is seeing a jump in the number of enrollments by students who have speech and language difficulties.

In the 2022-23 school year, there are 452 students with learning challenges enrolled in the school district, which is 13% of the student body.

The percentage is lower than the state average of 15%, but it has been growing over the past several years, according to Amy Schuh, director of Title IX programs in the West De Pere School District.

She updated the Board of Education last week when it met at Hemlock Creek Elementary School.

The various conditions fall into several categories: emotional behavioral disability (EBD), hearing impairment (HI), intellectual disability (ID), other health impairment (OHI), significant developmental delay (SDD) and specific learning disability (SLD).

Students with conditions that occur in low incidences, such as orthopedic impairments, visual impairments, traumatic brain injuries, deafness or blindness, are not included in the count.

Almost 200 students have challenges that impair their speech and language.

Schuh said all of the districts she has contact with are seeing similar rises.

“Why, we don’t know, but for things like autism, they’re getting better at diagnosing it, so the numbers are going up,” she said.

Westwood Elementary School is the school with the largest share of students who have been identified as challenged, with 16% of its student body, followed by De Pere Middle School, which has 13%.

West De Pere High School is next, with 11% of the student body, followed by De Pere Intermediate School, with 10%, and Hemlock Creek Elementary School, with 9%.

Politics policy changes
The school board approved the adoption of changes to several policies, including a rewrite of its policy on the political activities of employees.

Previously, partisan political activities during the work hours were considered sanctioned, as long as they didn’t present a conflict of interest, damage the professional relationship between the teacher and student, violate the employee code of ethics or present a danger to the school system.

The new policy is that, while employees and school board members have a right to engage in political activities, they shouldn’t use school district time or property to do so.

They also may not use their position, school property or school time to further a political cause, candidate or party.

They also may not distribute campaign material to students during school hours unless it’s part of the curriculum.

The policy goes on to say that the restrictions aren’t meant to limit the rights of employees or school board members on their own time.

Rather, it says, they’re intended to limit distractions from instruction, assure that public funds aren’t used to support candidates for public office, and assure that the public isn’t given the false impression that the school supports or opposes any political candidate or party.

Employees and school board members who engage in political activities on their own time must make clear that their views represent their individual positions and not those of the district.

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